Being three-years-old is special! It is a turning point in a young child’s life. Not only are toddlers seeking more independence at this age, they are also beginning to shift from unconsciously absorbing their environment to consciously seeking and understanding information. Dr. Montessori described this transition stating, “Thus it happens that at the age of three, life seems to begin again; for new consciousness shines forth in all its fullness and glory.”
At three-years-old, children begin to apply their knowledge to new situations and experiences, engage in problem solving, and ask questions (lots of questions!). These little ones have learned and grown quite a lot during the first three years of their lives both mentally and physically and they are eager to show what they know. They want to move, to explore, and to assert their independence.
What to look for in a Montessori toy for a 3-year-old?
Montessori toys and activities offer great opportunities for three-year-olds to do just that! They help them learn, grow, and explore independently.
There are many traditional Montessori materials that are ideal for 3-year-olds such as the Pink Tower, the Brown Stair, and the Red Rods.
These are sensorial materials that help children sort by size and learn new descriptive language such as big, bigger, biggest, small, smaller, smallest, and thick, thicker, and thickest while also developing fine and gross motor skills, visual discrimination, concentration, and coordination.
Likewise, there are many Montessori-inspired toys that are simple in nature, reality-based, and purposeful that children this age are sure to enjoy as well.
No matter your child’s interests, we are confident they will love some of these most popular Montessori-aligned toys and materials for 3-year-olds!
The Sound Cylinders are a traditional Montessori material for 3-year-olds that meet a child’s need for sensorial exploration. Each Montessori Sound Cylinder contains beads of varying sizes and amounts, influencing the sound each one makes. The child shakes the cylinders and matches them based on sound – and let’s be honest, what three-year-old isn’t going to love making a bunch of noise?
For families looking for a more cost-effective, at-home option, Sound Cylinders can also be easily DIY’d using plastic eggs and beads, beans, or rice!
The Knobbed Cylinders are another traditional Montessori material for 3-year-olds. This sensorial material consists of 10 different cylinders with ‘knobs’ that the child holds using a pincer grasp to transfer out and in of a solid block of wood. Each cylinder fits into a specific hole on the block. There are four different variations of the Knobbed Cylinders allowing the child to explore varying dimensions of height and diameter. This Montessori puzzle for 3-year-olds is perfect for children interested in sorting, size comparison, and transferring activities.
Image from Adobe Stock
Smelling Jars/Tasting Bottles
Smelling Jars and Tasting Bottles are great Montessori ideas for 3-year-olds that offer rich sensorial experiences. Smelling different spices and herbs or sampling the four fundamental tastes (salty, sweet, bitter, and sour) and attempting to match them is a fascinating experience for three-year-olds (and for us as we watch)! You can easily DIY this activity at home by exploring spices and herbs in your home when baking and cooking together, by stopping to smell flowers on nature walks, and by playing a smelling game with kid-safe essential oils and cotton balls.
Puzzles are often very popular with young children – and for good reason; they’re captivating! Montessori puzzles for 3-year-olds offer great benefits for cognitive and fine motor development. The number of Montessori puzzles is nearly limitless; your child can build animal puzzles to enhance their study of zoology, can piece together flowers and trees to engage their interest in botany, and can discover countries, continents, and biomes to help facilitate geographical pursuits. Three-year-olds can often complete a traditional-style puzzle with around 12 pieces and with so many choices and so much variety, we’re confident each child will be able to find a puzzle they will love!
Sandpaper Letters and Numbers
Sandpaper letters and numbers allow the child to move their finger around the letter or number as the number or the sound of the letter is said aloud – they feel it, hear it, and see it. These traditional Montessori materials for 3-year-olds provide a deeper understanding of written number and letter symbols through a rich sensorial impression. The magic of Montessori is truly encapsulated by the Sandpaper Letters and Numbers as your three-year-old becomes engrossed in their learning, guided by their muscle memory and their tactile sensation!
Montessori Grammar Farm
A miniature environment like a farm is a great Montessori idea for 3-year-olds. It not only provides open-ended opportunities for imaginative play, but also allows for language lessons introducing the names of the animals (including the male, female, and baby versions) and parts of speech. Although a traditional Montessori grammar farm is beautiful, they can be quite expensive. It would be easy to DIY a Montessori grammar farm by purchasing almost any type of farm set and a collection of farm animals such as those from Schleich or Safari Ltd. This is a Montessori toy your 3-year-old is sure to play with and love for years to come!
Nuts and Bolts
Three-year-olds are often fascinated by things that spin and enjoy joining things together. Young children will love mastering screwing the nuts on the bolts while learning descriptive vocabulary like big, bigger, and biggest. This Montessori toy for three-year-olds is a perfect way for toddlers to develop an understanding of cause and effect as they explore how things come together and apart and continue building their fine motor skills.
Lacing & Stringing
There are so many great Montessori lacing and stringing materials for 3-year-olds. From stringing beads to lacing cards and even a lacing dressing frame, these practical life activities will help toddlers develop fine motor skills, concentration, and coordination that can be helpful in self-care activities like dressing oneself. There are even Montessori lacing toys for three-year-olds to help them learn to lace and tie their shoes, promoting a sense of independence and pride for your little one!
Children experience a sensitive period for music between the ages of 2 and 6. There are many benefits to supporting a child’s developing music ability – and let’s be honest, what is cuter than a dancing toddler? The Toniebox is a child-friendly, portable audio system that allows a 3-year-old to be independent in their selection and enjoyment of audiobooks and music. Although it is not a specific Montessori material, the independence it fosters and the exploration of musical interest that it promotes definitely makes it Montessori-aligned.
Functional Play Kitchens
Play kitchens are popular for inspiring young children’s imaginations. When converted to offer access to running water and stocked with snacks, dishes, silverware, and other eating utensils, these play kitchens become functional tools that promote a child’s independence in ways three-year-olds are often craving. Seeing toddlers capable of serving themselves a drink of water or a snack and setting their place for mealtime is so rewarding (and so enjoyable for our little ones)!
Image from Adobe Stock
Foam Play Couches
Foam play couches like the Nugget have become very popular. We love watching our little ones build forts and create obstacle courses using the cushions and although they are not a specific Montessori item, these foam play couches provide great opportunities for gross motor exploration and development in Montessori homes just like ours. Three-year-olds will love moving and stacking the cushions (which is a great maximum effort or “heavy work” activity, by the way) and climbing under and over their creations while engaging in vivid imaginative play.
Although also not specific to Montessori, Pikler Triangles are another great Montessori-aligned item for three-year-olds. They provide excellent opportunities for young children to use maximum effort to move their bodies in new and exciting ways. Although we’re sure it might make you a little nervous when seeing your little one climbing over the top and trying to decide the best way to get back down, we promise the risky play the Pikler Triangle encourages and promotes is great for a three-year-old’s physical, cognitive, and social-emotional development.
The Bottom Line
These top 12 Montessori toys for three-year-olds are only just the beginning. With so many amazing options of traditional Montessori materials and Montessori-inspired toys designed with 3-year-olds in mind, each child is sure to find activities they love that will help stimulate their increasing need to learn, grow, and explore independently during this new and exciting time in their life!